Tuesday, January 31

7 Ways To Get More Out Of Pinterest

7 Ways To Get More Out Of Pinterest

I’ve heard one of the best ways to attract visitors to one’s website is Pinterest! I’m not sure if Pinterest is the best way—I've had a lot of success with Twitter—but today I talk about 7 steps anyone can take to get more traffic from Pinterest.com.

1. Get Analytics

Anyone can get a business page—and it’s free!

If you’re not a new user, you can convert your current page to a business page (that’s what I did).

If you haven’t converted already, don’t wait! The number of times a particular pin is viewed, repinned, and so on, is only recorded AFTER you convert the page so you’re not going to have any data to start off with. Which means it will take a couple of months before you see anything interesting, anything that can really help you. So the sooner you set up your business account, the sooner you’ll be able to see which of your pins are the most popular.

The Key: Once you find out what Pinterest content is the most popular you can give visitors more of what they like!

2. Make it easy for visitors to save your pins by enabling “save” buttons to appear when the cursor hovers over an image.

The title says it all. To read more about the gory details go here: Build a Save button for your site.

3. Pinterest Rich Pins

Rich Pins are pins that include extra information; there are five different kinds: Article, Product, Recipe, Movie and Place. Here's Beth Cooper’s description:

Article pins include the headline, author, story description and link.
Product pins include real-time pricing, availability and where to buy.
Recipe pins include ingredients, cooking times and serving info.
Movie pins include ratings, cast members and reviews.
Place pins include an address, phone number and map.[1]

Note: You need to apply to Pinterest to use rich pins. You can read more about it here: Getting Started. You’ll need to run your pins through the Rich Pins Validator before they can be pinned.

4. Structure your pinterest groups.

What is your blog about? Picture someone visiting your blog for the first time. After a year of reading your blog how have they changed? What problems have they been able to solve because of the information you gave them?

For instance, if you blog about dogs you might imagine that folks coming to your blog for the first time are new dog owners who live in the city. They’re stressed out and short of time. Their immediate need is to know more about dogs—how many times a day they should be walked, what kind of food is best, does their breed of dog need to be groomed every day, and so on. Let’s say this person, after they’ve been reading your blog for a year, is a more confident, relaxed dog owner. Why? Since they know more about dogs and how to care for them they have a better relationship with their animals.

Now think about keywords (or key phrases) that would describe the problem your writing solves. In the above example it might be: General information about how to care for dogs. Now think of supporting categories (for example, pet nutrition, the benefits of exercise, remedies for common health problems, and so on). Try to come up with at least 4 or 5 key words or phrases.

You want to turn these categories into boards over on Pinterest.

5. Interact with like-minded pinners.

Find folks who are active in your categories and then repin, like and comment on their pins. Briallyn Smith writes:

“Pinterest also allows you to directly draw other users’ attention to a specific pin by tagging them @Username in a comment or pin description. This can be an excellent way to initiate conversations and discussions!”[2]

6. Pin your articles

I’ve seen more and more writers choose not to set up a website or blog and, instead, opt to use social media. I encourage you not to be one of them! Set up a website. If money and ease of use is an issue, try Blogger or Wordpress.org. I think it's important to have one place where potential readers can go to find everything: your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog posts, books, etc.

If you decide you really don’t want a website you could try posting on Google+ and places like Medium, though these sites don’t make it easy to share links to all your creative output. But at least they give you the ability to post your writing with an image optimized for Pinterest.

7. Use eye-catching graphics.

Let’s talk about images. I’m going to recommend two programs: Canva.com and an app I use all the time, Snapseed. Both are free and easy to use.

Size. According to How To Optimize Images And Graphics For Pinterest the ideal size for a blog photo is 600 pixels wide and 900 pixels high. But don’t make it more than 900 pixels in height or your image will get cut off!

Brand. Find some way to brand your image. I just put my domain name at the bottom, but if you have a logo put it on the image.

I’m sure there are many more ways to improve your Pinterest account (I didn’t have time to say anything about how to choose effective keywords). If you have a tip that I haven’t talked about, please share it in the comments!

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending an older book (2002) but it’s excellent, Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. Donald Maass is the author of over 16 novels and is a well known literary agent.

From the blurb: “Maybe you're a first-time novelist looking for practical guidance. Maybe you've already been published, but your latest effort is stuck in mid-list limbo. Whatever the case may be, author and literary agent Donald Maass can show you how to take your prose to the next level and write a breakout novel - one that rises out of obscurity and hits the best-seller lists.”

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again on Wednesday. In the meantime, good writing!


1. 17 Tips, Tools and Tricks to Improve your Pinterest Marketing Strategy, by Belle Beth Cooper.

2. How to Use Pinterest Effectively, by Briallyn Smith

Friday, January 27

The Structure of a Great Story: How to Write a Suspenseful Tale!

The Structure of a Great Story: How to Write a Suspenseful Tale!

I did it!! Finally! I just finished the book I’ve wanted to write for YEARS: The Structure of a Great Story: How to Write a Suspenseful Tale!

If you’ve read my blog for awhile you know my personal story. Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to know what makes one story unputdownable and another a cure for insomnia. I’m sure this could be several things—including the author’s writing style! But often the difference is that one story has the right meter, the right patterns, a natural rise and fall of action and inaction, of taking chances and facing consequences, while the other doesn’t.

That said, I’ve read books and watched movies where what should have been a gripping tale left me cold. Also, stories that made NO sense in terms of how they were structured ended up being highly entertaining. I want to stress that there is no guarantee any particular story one writes will be interesting to any other particular person. Just like I can chat with two different people at a party and they each come away with wildly different opinions of me, so a story can make wildly different impressions on any one reader. Given this it’s obvious there’s no such thing as ONE structure, or set of structures, that is guaranteed to make a story enjoyable for everyone.

But even so, even admitting this, there are certain rules of thumb that can make any story more suspenseful and easier to read. That’s the sort of thing I’ve been interested in learning, in documenting.

It’s time for me to stop rambling on about the book and present you with an excerpt!

Although there's no secret formula that will generate a best selling story, I believe that often repeated saying: knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge of the craft of writing. This knowledge gives us the power to change, the power to improve. But knowledge only goes so far; it has to be paired with practice.

The stories I focus on in the following pages are often called genre stories. They're stories filled with suspense, the kind that keep decent hardworking folk up till indecent hours, unable to put their book down until they discover what happened, whether the hero found the treasure and saved the day or lost everything in a fiery inferno of regret.

I don't claim to know everything about writing and this slim volume does not contain the sum total of writing wisdom, far from it. I started blogging about writing in 2010 because I believed that, as Seneca wrote, "by teaching we are learning." This book grew from that quest.
 I believe the key to writing good genre fiction is to create complex, compelling, characters, put them in an interesting yet hostile setting, introduce believable opposition with clear stakes, and wrap it all up in a well thought-out plot.

In other words, the key to writing great genre fiction is to write a great story.

If you would like a free copy of my book in return for your opinion of it please contact me at karen@karenwoodward.org. Thanks!

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I'm recommending Creating Unforgettable Characters, by Linda Seger. Dr. Linda Seger has worked on over 2,000 scripts! She even worked with Ray Bradbury. Yes, this book focuses on screenplays as opposed to novels, but it contains a lot of good information.

That's it! I'll talk to you again on Monday, I hope you have a great weekend. In the meantime, good writing!

Monday, January 23

4 Ways to Choose a Blog Topic Your Readers Will Love

4 Ways to Choose a Blog Topic Your Readers Will Love

One of the most difficult things about blogging is deciding exactly what to blog about. To be honest, I think picking a topic is something of a dark art. For years, it was a source of agony but then I developed a few strategies.

I’ll confess that I was stumped about what to write about today (it was difficult to rip myself away from working on my book!), but instead of going through this process myself—which I do on a regular basis—I thought I’d share the process itself.

I find that, often, creativity needs a nudge. Like an oyster needs a spec of sand around which to form a beautiful pearl, so writers often need inspiration to get their ideas flowing.

In any case, if I don’t have a topic in mind to write about, then here’s how I choose one. But, before I get to that, let me show you what I affectionately think of as, ‘The Test.’

The Test

In order for a topic to get the green light it has to pass two checks:

A. Would my readers be passionate about this topic?
B. Am I passionate about this topic?

You are wildly interested in a topic but your readers? Not so much. 

Let’s face it, if your readers aren’t interested in a particular topic then, even if you’ve written the most erudite article, why torment them? Do write the article, but publish in another venue!

You think your readers would love to read about a certain topic but you’re not passionate about the topic.

I’ve had this happen. A few years ago I received several requests from readers to write about how to record an audiobook, and I thought that was a great idea for a blog, or even a series of blog posts.

But, for whatever reason, when I sat down to write the darn article it felt like I was trying to eat sawdust! I had to force myself to pick up and move the pen and the time stretched on and on and on and ... well, you get the idea. (I did eventually write the post, and I enjoyed doing it! Often our muses just need time to figure out how to make a topic our own.)

Sometimes a topic will sound great—perfect!—but you are so profoundly uninspired by it that it would take you ages to write it. That’s not making efficient use of your time. There are many topics that will inspire both you and your readers. Write about those and be happy! ;)

1. Podcasts.

Here’s what I do: As I’ve mentioned before (see: 6 Inspirational and Informative Writing Podcasts), I love listening to podcasts! And quite a few of my favorites are about writing.

One thing I do when I’m looking for topics my readers might love is to go to the podcast’s home on iTunes and sort the episodes by popularity so that the most popular podcast episodes are at the top. I then read the top 5 or 10 podcast titles and run them through The Test (see above).

2. Buzzsumo.com

What Buzzsumo does is show you a site’s most shared blog posts. Plug in a domain name and up will pop that particular site’s most shared blog posts. I use the free version and so can only see the 5 most popular posts, but that’s enough!

Select your five favorite sites and run their domain names through Buzzsumo. Look at the titles produced and Test them to see if any would be a good topic for you.

3. Your most popular Tweets.

One of the many nice things about Twitter is that it tells you which of your tweets and retweets were the most popular. This is a terrific way to see what topics your readers like to share!

4. Your most popular posts.

Practically any blogging platform will give you statistics; at the very least, it will tell you how many times a certain blog post has been viewed. If you’ve linked your blog to Google Analytics you’ll also be able to see, for example, how long visitors stay on the page. This will give you a more accurate idea about what viewers prefer, but if you don’t have Google Analytics, use whatever you have.

In what follows I’m going to talk about several ways you can get blog ideas from your own most popular posts.

a. Write a part two.

Many times I’ll come to the end of a blog post knowing there’s much more I could have written. When I go back and take a look at the most popular posts I ask myself, could I write a part two? You don’t have to call it part two, just blog about it and link back to the older post.

b. Give a detailed example.

You could give a detailed example that deals with a topic you wrote about in one of your more popular posts. For example, let’s say you wrote about how to write a Create Your Own Adventure story. You could create an outline and write the beginning of a small adventure then, for the blog post, share the materials and step through what you did to create them.

c. Write about the X most popular Y.

Let’s say your 3 most popular blog posts have to do with the same topic, say, “How to select a vacation spot snorkelers will enjoy.” Since you’ve got 3 posts about this as it is, maybe you don’t want to write a 4th! That’s okay, vary the kind of blog post. For example, “4 Snorkeling Paradises For Your Bucket List.”

d. Curate posts: your 5 favorite blog posts that week.

If you’re a blogger, chances are you read a number blogs. If a few posts stand out as being well written, then include them in a “best of the web” post.

For each article you use, give the title, the authors name and be sure to link back to the article itself (that’s important!)—in other words, attribute the article. This is also a good way of meeting other bloggers, I’ve had a number of folks whose material I’ve reviewed leave comments thanking me!

Those are my ideas, I’d love to hear yours! How do you choose a blog post?

Every post I pick something I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending a TV show: Lucifer

Lucifer is filled with lighthearted irreverence, I find it a wonderful way to unwind. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a critical rating of 75% and an audience score of 89%. It's is based on the DC comic of the same name.

That’s it! I’ll talk to you on Wednesday. Till then, good writing!

Saturday, January 21

The Tropes of Supernatural

The Tropes of Supernatural

I have a confession: I’m a super-fan of Supernatural. I’ve rewatched the entire series—twice! Each time something new would pop; I’d get a fresh insight into the rhythm, the patterns, the complex web of conflicting character desires.

For those who’ve never seen Supernatural, it’s ...

“an American fantasy horror television series created by Eric Kripke. It was first broadcast on September 13, 2005, on The WB .... Starring Jared Padalecki as Sam Winchester and Jensen Ackles as Dean Winchester, the series follows the two brothers as they hunt demons, ghosts, monsters, and other supernatural beings. (Supernatural, Wikipedia)”

I’ve watched Supernatural from the very first episode way back in 2005. So, in honor of supernatural's upcoming 13th season, I thought I'd take a look at the tropes used in the show.

About tropes: The way I see it, just because a show uses tropes doesn’t mean it’s bad. It all depends on how the tropes are written.

Knowledge Broker

A Knowledge Broker “is the person who always seems to have the dirt on everybody. The person who runs an information-gathering system, with a network of informers.” The Knowledge Broker may seem “nearly omniscient. He/she always seems to have just the right tidbit of information for whoever is willing to pay their price. For the most part, he remains impartial despite his vast influence, and most people know to stay on his good (or at least indifferent) side.” (TVTropes, Knowledge Broker)


- Ice Pick from Magnum, P.I.
- Sam Axe in Burn Notice.
- Mycroft on Sherlock.

Related tropes:

- The Barnum
- Freudian Excuse
- Default to Good

Monster of the Week

A Monster of the Week story is one in which “characters fight a villain and the whole story is wrapped up at the end, never to be dealt with again.”

Cool fact: Did you know that the phrase, “Monster of the Week” comes from the writing staff of the Outer Limits (1963)?


- The Twilight Zone
- The Outer Limits
- Marvel’s Agents of  S.H.I.E.L.D.

Related tropes:

- One-Shot Character
- Mystery of the Week
- Monster Munch

Walking the Earth

This is one of my favorite tropes! From TVTropes:

“Footloose and fancy-free, we set off among the Adventure Towns, seeking the next place, rather than our fortunes. / ... The character has no home (or he/she/it in progress of finding one), no job, no money, no identification, no friends, and no visible means of support, yet is always healthy, well-fed, clean, and welcome wherever he goes.”

“When one is forced to walk the earth against one's will, this trope becomes the much darker Flying Dutchman. / If a character walking the earth has a strict code of honor and spreads justice in his wake, he's a Knight Errant. Same code of honor (and wanderlust) usually results in passing the ‘Leave Your Quest’ Test.”


- Doctor Who 
- The Fugitive
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

Related tropes:

- Adventure Towns
- In Harm's Way
- The Drifter

Myth Arc

A Myth Arc is basically a story arc—often a very LONG one. In the case of Supernatural the Myth Arc encompasses a soon-to-be 13 seasons of the show!

Cool fact: “Myth Arc” and “mythology episode” originated with the writers on the X-Files!


- Babylon 5
- X-Files
- Heroes

Related tropes:

- Continuity Lock-Out
- Story Arc
- Chris Carter Effect

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending Writing a Novel with Scrivener, by David Hewson. I use Scrivener to write everything, including these posts!

From the blurb: Bestselling “author David Hewson, creator of the successful Nic Costa series, offers a personal, highly-focussed guide to using this powerful application to create a novel. .... Hewson, a Scrivener user for years who's written five of his popular novels in the app, takes users through the basic processes of structuring a full-length novel, writing and developing the story, then delivering it either as a manuscript for an agent or publisher or as an ebook direct to Kindle or iBook.”

And that barely scratches the surface! If you want to look at more tropey goodness:

Character profiles from the Tabletop Game: Monster of the Week. Here’s another list. Lots of great character ideas!

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again on Monday. Till then, good writing.


Wednesday, January 18

Story Structure and The Hollywood Formula

Story Structure and The Hollywood Formula
Okay! I had planned to write about the structure of an episode of Supernatural just for fun, because I’m a huge fan. I’ve rewatched the series from the start and noticed many things I completely missed the first time around.

And I still want to do that! But in the process of researching that post I discovered a slightly different way of looking at story structure that I hadn’t known existed! Yes, I’m a happy story nerd. :-)

So, instead of talking to you about the structure of an episode of Supernatural, I’m going to quickly introduce The Hollywood Formula, tell you a little bit about it and sketch out how it differs from other ways of looking at story structure.

Update: My next book

I’ll come back to The Hollywood Formula in a moment, I just want to give you all a quick update on the book I blogged during NaNoWriMo. At the moment I’m spending all my time finishing it and am glad to report it’s almost done! If I keep up my current pace everyone subscribed to my newsletter will receive an announcement in about a week (around January 25th). My plan is to make the book available to my newsletter subscribers for free as a thank you for reading my blog. :-)

I’m not sure how I’ll make the book available. Perhaps I’ll make a .mobi file available offline and you folks can go download it. It would be a limited time offer, but I’d make the book available for three or so days so everyone who wants to should have ample time to download it.

Another way I could get the book to my newsletter subscribers would be to run a promotion through Amazon and offer the book for free. It might be easier if you downloaded the book from Amazon since that way you’ll have access to it forever, even if you delete it from your electronic device! Also, if I update the book, you’ll be able to download the updated file for free regardless of what it's currently selling for.

What do you think? Any particular preference?

Okay, enough of that! Now let’s take a quick look at The Hollywood Formula.

Where The Hollywood Formula is From

The Hollywood Formula, this particular permutation of it, was created by Dan Decker and outlined in his (wonderful!) book Anatomy of a Screenplay. I first learned about it through TVTropes.org. That website helpfully pointed me to one of the episodes (season 6, episode 18) of a podcast I love, Writing Excuses. This one was helpfully entitled The Hollywood Formula. It is excellent, I highly recommend you download it and give it a listen.

The Hollywood Formula: A Summary

In what follows I do my best to answer two questions. First, just what is The Hollywood Formula? Second, how does it differ from other structures, structures such as the Monomyth?

1. Nuts and Bolts

The Hollywood Formula has to do with screenplays, but can readily be adapted to a novel. Here, though, I’ll present it as I heard it.

Keep in mind that this formula is based on a two hour film where one page of screenplay takes one minute. This comes out to 120 pages.

Act One: Pages -> 1 to 30
Act Two: Pages -> 31 to 90
Act Three: Pages -> 91 to 120

Pages 1 to 10: Introduce the three main characters. 

When the characters are introduced show what they want.

Characters to be introduced: 

The protagonist: 

- The protagonist has a concrete goal/objective. The objective could be a person (e.g., the man/woman the protagonist wants to marry), it could be an object (the grail, a championship, etc.). Two things need to be the case: (a) The objective must be easily understood. (b) The objective must be visual.

- The first person to make a decision in the story. Note that this decision isn’t perfect but it does characterize the protagonist. It will be a ‘yes or no’ decision. Also, the decision should result in the character doing something that goes against what readers know about the nature of the protagonist. For example, a shy girl stands up to a bully to save the boy she likes. The idea is to (a) show what the protagonist wants as well as (b) how badly she wants it.

- The protagonist’s motivation is either (a) redemption or (b) growth.

The antagonist: 

- The antagonist places obstacles in the protagonist’s way. If the antagonist achieves his goal then the protagonist cannot and vice versa.

- “In order to identify the Opponent in a movie, you must first identify the Main Character, and the Main’s Objective. Only then can you ask why the Main Character can’t get his or her Objective. The answer to that question is: the Opposition.” (Dan Decker, Anatomy of a Screenplay)

The relationship character

- The relationship character accompanies the protagonist on her journey.

- The relationship character has wisdom to communicate to the protagonist. She’s been there, done that. This character generally has experience the protagonist lacks.

- The relationship character is the person TO WHOM or FROM WHOM the theme of the film is articulated. Either the relationship character will state it themselves or a secondary character will state it in conversation with the relationship character.

Pages 11 to 13: Fateful Decision

The protagonist must make a choice. This is where the protagonist receives the Call to Adventure.

Pages 1 to 60: Protagonist Asks Questions

At page 60 (the Midpoint Crisis) the protagonist stops asking questions and starts answering them.

Pages 60 to 90: Protagonist Answers Questions

Page 90: Protagonist’s Lowest Point

The protagonist has gone as far from her goal it is possible for her to be.

Pages 90 to 120: The journey from the low point to the end.

This more-or-less maps onto the Race to the Finish.


At or around the Climax three things must happen:

  • The protagonist achieves his goal.
  • The protagonist defeats the antagonist.
  • The protagonist reconciles with the relationship character.

Note: The closer these three events are to each other the more emotional impact the story will have.

2. How does The Hollywood Formula differ from other structures?

I’ll have more to say about this when I have more time and I’ve done more research, but from what I’ve seen so far, THF is much more character centered. Most story structures tend to group the protagonist and antagonist together, something which makes all the other characters feel secondary. With The Hollywood Formula, in contrast, we have three main characters. My first impression is that this makes a lot of sense because the relationship character (e.g., Donkey in Shrek) is clearly an essential character for telling the story.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I’m recommending Dan Decker’s excellent book, Anatomy of a Screenplay. Here’s a quotation: “A mainstream American screenplay tells a story, about a character, in search of an objective, in the face of opposition, with an underlying theme, in a clearly defined genre, and has an emotionally satisfying resolution.”

That’s it for today! I’ll talk to you again on Friday. Till then, good writing!

Monday, January 16

Write a Book in 15 Days: Part 3 of 3

Write a Book in 15 Days: Craft the Title, Write the Book, Write the Introduction, Should You Use a Pen Name

This is the third and final post in a series on how to write a book in 15 days. In the first and second posts I talked about picking a topic for your book, creating an outline and the importance of finding the right subcategory for your book. Here are the links:

1. Write a Book in 15 Days
2. How to Pick Categories for Your Amazon Book

Now that we’ve picked a topic and created an outline it’s time to decide on a title.

Craft the title.

You might be wondering why I’m advising you to choose a title now rather than after you’ve finished writing. It’s because I find knowing my title helps keep me on track because it contains the promise of my book.

For example, “20 Idyllic Scuba Diving Locations That Won’t Bankrupt You” or “20 Christmas Cookies Your Mother-In-Law Will Love.”

These titles make a promise to the reader. For example, “20 Idyllic Scuba Diving Locations That Won’t Bankrupt You” promises that if you go to one of these spots to scuba dive, you’ll have a wonderful time but spend less than if you went anywhere else.

Do Market Research

The single most important thing you can do to help sell your book is to look at bestselling books in the categories you’ve chosen.

I won’t go into market research in any depth here, the topic is too big, but here’s the gist:

a. Find your target categories.

I went through an example of this on Friday. Here are the categories I came up with:

Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Entrepreneurship & Small Business > Small Business
Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Entrepreneurship & Small Business > Home-Based
Books > Business & Money > Small Business & Entrepreneurship > Home Based

b. Use the top 5 books in each category as examples.

Buy and read the top five books in each category. Look at how these books are structured, what topics are covered, what tone the authors adopt (comedic, impassioned, detached, and so on).

The idea is to get a feel for what books do well in your chosen categories as well as why they do well. (If you can, buy and read one or two books in each of these categories that aren’t doing well. Ask yourself, Why is this book not doing well? What is the difference between the two)

c. Look at the covers.

As far as I can tell the single biggest determiner of a book’s success is its cover. It may sound odd to put it like this, but the actual content of the book doesn’t sell the book, it sells the next book.

Look at the covers of the bestselling books in each category and break them down into their component elements. Does the cover contain text only, or is there an image? Is the image a cartoon or a photograph? Is there a focal image? That is, does one image clearly dominate the cover? If the cover primarily contains text, is the text bold or italic? Which font was used? (If you don’t know which font it is, try sites like identifont or fontsquirrel.) And so on.

For example, if you look at the "Thrillers & Suspense" category most of the top ten books prominently feature photographs. On the other hand, many self-help books contain only text.

I want to stress that the idea is not to copy the cover. We just want to understand what characteristics are common to the covers of the books that sell the best in your categories. Of course you want a unique and distinctive cover, but the idea is for it to be easily recognizable as the cover of a certain kind of book.

Write the book.

If you write 2,000 words a day for 15 days you’ll have 30,000 words. If writing 2,000 words a day seems daunting, keep a couple of things in mind.

First, you don’t have to write 2,000 words a day! If the most you’ve ever written is 200 words a day, 2,000 might seem impossible. In that case shoot for 200 a day and after you feel comfortable, try increasing it to 300, and so on. Even if you only write 500 words a day it will only take two months to write a book!

Or perhaps you can write a considerable number of words in a day but can, say, only write one day a week. In that case, one would need to write 3,500 words in one sitting once a week. At 1,000 words per hour, that would only take 3.5 hours!

Second, write a Zero Draft. A Zero Draft is what I like to call a vomit draft. The idea of a Zero Draft is to get your unfiltered thoughts down on paper as fast as you can. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Research is a must, but put off as much of this as you can until the next draft. For example, if you’re not sure about something like the spelling of a name or a date, just put in a placeholder and, if it survives into the next draft, do the research.

Why? If you’re anything like me then as much as 25% of the words you write for the Zero Draft won’t find their way into the next draft. If you pause to do detailed research on this 25% then that is time wasted.

Write an introduction.

After you’ve finished writing the book, write the introduction. Since the introduction is all about what you’ve written, even if you do write it first, chances are you’ll have to completely rewrite it. Why? Because the only way to know exactly what you’re going to write is to write it!

In the first part of the introduction tell your readers why yours is a book they need to read. People have ‘pain points,’ areas that prevent them from fulfilling their goals, from accomplishing what they want. What are your readers’ pain points? Do they want to plan the perfect vacation but are feeling overwhelmed by all the information, all the possibilities? Or do they want to learn ways to unleash their inner vagabond while not completely blowing their budget?

Tell readers how your book is going to help eliminate these pain points.

For example, let’s think about someone who shops on Amazon and who is interested in German dessert recipes. Perhaps she’s not German herself, but her significant other is and that means going home with him for the holidays. Which means that you have to cook something to present as a gift. The question: what to make? Well, cookies made with German culinary traditions could help remove that particular pain point!

Hire the best editor you can afford.

It’s 15 days later and you’ve written 30,000 words. You have an introduction and you have 10 or so chapters.

What you need to do now is send your book-baby off to the best line editor you can afford.

Before you do this, though, put your manuscript in a drawer and leave it for a week. If you can’t stand to leave it for a week, then put it in a drawer for a couple of days.

When it’s time for your manuscript to come out of the drawer, read the manuscript through. You can also have your computer read the file to you—this functionality is build into both the Mac and PC. Try to make the manuscript free of grammatical and spelling errors.

Then, and only then, send it off to a line editor or proofreader—someone who will make sure that you’re using the appropriate words in the appropriate places, someone who will double-check your spelling and grammar, and so on.

I kid you not, every time I send a manuscript off to an editor I’m sure I’ve caught everything and every time they have pointed out mistakes I made that would have been embarrassing.

Should you use a pen name?

There are many reasons to use a pen name.

Discovery. If you write in several genres, or if some of your books are fiction and others are non-fiction, then using a different pen name for each genre can help keep readers from being confused. For instance, if a person likes reading sci-fi, they know what name to search for.

Privacy. Also, using a pen name gives you privacy. Readers have been known to use an author’s name to track them down in real life. Even though most of these people are harmless it can be disconcerting for an author to open their door to a stranger who seems to know all about them. Even if you’re not worried about being stalked, if you write in sensitive genres such as erotica, you might want to keep that information from your family or your boss.

But there are also reasons to use your real name. If you use a different pen name for each genre you write it makes it more difficult for readers to discover all your books (sometimes folks want to read, or at least look at, whatever you’ve written). Granted, this deficit can be largely overcome by listing all your books on your author website, but these days some authors are electing not to have one. Instead, they share everything through their various social media accounts.

If you would like to read further about this, I’ve written an article on the subject: Should You Use A Pen Name?

Create an eye-catching cover

You have a manuscript but it’s off with the editor so you’re left twiddling your thumbs. Now’s the time to work on your book’s cover. You have the title, you’ve decided what name you’re going to publish under, you know what you want your cover to look like, so what are you waiting for?

Note: Look on pinterest.com. Google the subcategories you’re interested in and see what sort of images folks have pinned.

Should you create the book cover yourself or have an artist create one for you?

If money's no object, definitely get an artist to do one for you. If you can’t spend a huge amount of money but can manage $200 or so, think about using 99designs.com.

If money is tight and this is your first book and you’re just testing the water, then I would suggest you try to create the cover yourself and see how it goes. GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free image processing program that’s quite powerful.

Here’s a link to an article I wrote about where to find free, public domain images: Bloggers: 10 Sites With Public Domain, High Resolution, Images.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I am wholeheartedly recommending a book by one of my favorite writers, Chuck Wendig: 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer. Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terribleminds.com, is one of my favorite writing blogs but be warned! It is NSFW due to his creative use of the English language.

That’s it! The next step is formatting your manuscript and uploading it to Amazon. If anyone wants me to continue this series by talking about how to do that please let me know! If enough folks would be interested in me continuing this series, I will!

UPDATE: For your convenience, here are links to the other articles in this series:

Part 1 of 1: How to Write a Book in 15 Days
Part 2 of 3: How to Pick Categories for Your Amazon Book
Part 3 of 3: How to Choose a Title, Create the Artwork and Write the Darn Book!

Friday, January 13

How to Pick Categories for Your Amazon Book

How to Pick Categories for Your Book

This blog post is a continuation of a series I began on Wednesday (Write a Book in 15 Days). Today I talk about a topic entire books have been written about—how to select subcategories for your book—so I can't go into anything in depth but hopefully I’ve been able to communicate something helpful.

In what follows I only talk about Amazon. That said, I’d wager what I say, below, is true of any online retailer.

One more thing before we get started. There’s an invaluable (free!) resource I’ve found on the web called the Amazon Sales Rank Calculator. It will do exactly what the name says. If you give it the Amazon Sales Rank of a book it will tell you approximately how many copies of the book are sold per day.

The importance of categories and keywords.

The single most important thing you can do for your book is choose effective categories and keywords. You could write the best book in the world but if folks can’t discover your book, they’re won’t be able to buy it!

Genre and categories.

By this time you should have an idea for a book. Your idea will no doubt be refined over time, but you should have some notion what general topic you want to write about. For example, let’s say you want to write about how to start a website.

1. Think up search terms.

We want to find books about how to start a website. That is, books that are similar to the book you want to write. Why? Because we want to (a) see what keywords these sort of books use, (b) what categories they’re in and (c) how well they’re doing.

Bootstrapping: To start off, we need to think of a few possible search terms. Let’s try “website.” If that doesn’t work we can use “website create” or “website launch.”

2. In the categories “Books” and “Kindle eBooks” search for the keyword.

In our case this keyword is “website.” So head over to Amazon and search for “website” in the category “Books.” If you just want to click a link, here it is.

2a. On the left-hand side of the page you’ll see “Show results for.” Just below this is “Any Category” and under that is “Books.” Under this you’ll see categories listed. For example:

Computers & Technology
Web Development & Design
Blogging & Blogs

And so on. Now pick a category—something you think might be a good fit for your book—and drill down (by which I mean, click on the category to expose its subcategories). What sort of books are coming up? Are they similar to the one you want to write? If so, you’re on the right track, keep drilling. If not, try another category.

2b. Now do the same thing we did in 2a only change the parent category to “Kindle Store.” Here’s the link.

As before, take a look at the categories returned. Which ones stand out to you as being the best fit for your book?

After playing around a bit, looking at various categories, I chose these two:

Subcategory One: Books > Business & Money > Small Business & Entrepreneurship > Home

Subcategory Two: Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Entrepreneurship & Small Business > Small Business

3. Find example books: For each subcategory you chose, search on your keyword, sorting by RELEVANCE.

The keyword I’ve been using for my example has been “website.” If you’re not sure what I’m talking about just click the links, above, and you’ll see what I mean.

Now look at the books that came up. Note: These won’t be ordered by how well the books are selling. Don’t worry about this right now. We’re looking for books like the one you want to write because we’re interested in what categories they’re in.

For example, for “Subcategory Two” the first book listed (this will change over time so the first book might be different when you try it) is “Websites: How To Generate Online Income While You Sleep.” We’ll look at this book in more detail in (4), below.

4. For each example book look at (a) its Amazon Best Sellers Rank and (b) the categories it’s doing well in.

For instance, “Websites” has a Best Sellers Rank of 276,667 and is doing relatively well in the following subcategories:

  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Entrepreneurship & Small Business > Small Business
  • Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Business & Money > Entrepreneurship & Small Business > Home-Based
  • Books > Business & Money > Small Business & Entrepreneurship > Home Based

You’ll want to do this for AT LEAST 10 books. For each of these 10 books write down their title, their Best Sellers Rank and the subcategories they’re doing well in.

5. For each subcategory, find out which has the most popular books.

How do you do this? Well, frankly, it’s a bit tedious. That said, this is the most important step.

Go to each subcategory. On the first page, the books will be numbered from 1 to 20. The number 1 book will be the best selling book in that category while the number 20 book will be the book that sells worse than number 19 but better than number 21. The thing is, the number one book for a subcategory can have a really bad Best Sellers Rank. It can be, say, 200,000! If that’s the case, this isn’t a category you want to write for because even if your book lands at number 1, chances are you’re not going to sell a whole lot of copies!

On the other hand, if the number 1 book has a Best Sellers Rank of, say, 200 then that means that books in this category might be popular. Now you want to look at the Best Sellers Rank of the number 20 book. What is it? If it’s 200,000 then it looks like only one or two books are going to be lucrative which makes this subcategory not very attractive.

But imagine that the number 1 book has a Best Sellers Rank of 200 and that the number 20 book has a Best Sellers RAnk of 8,000. That’s good! Keep going. What’s the Best Sellers Rank of the 40th book? If it's under 50,000 then it looks as though this category is popular with readers.

In general, for each subcategory, compare the Best Sellers Rank of the 1st book to the Best Sellers Rank of the 20th book. If the 20th book has a sales rank of LESS THAN 50,000, then look at the Best Sellers Rank of the 40th book. If that book has a sales rank of less than 50,000, then look at the Best Sellers Rank of the 60th book. And so on.

But, we're not done!

6. For each subcategory, find out how many books it includes.

If a popular subcategory has oodles of books then that subcategory becomes less attractive because the competition is fierce. On the other hand, if a popular subcategory has the same amount of books (or fewer books!) as a less popular subcategory then that’s an opportunity. These books are popular and, relatively speaking, there’s not much competition. I’m not sure how long that state of affairs would last, but it’s something to notice.

How you can tell if a book is selling well.

The lower a book’s Amazon Best Sellers Rank the better. A Best Sellers Rank of 1 is the best selling book on Amazon. A rule of thumb is that if a book has a Best Sellers Rank of 100,000 then it sells about one copy a day.

Let’s say that after you’ve done all this research you determine that the categories your book fits with the best aren’t that lucrative. Even the best selling book sells only about one copy every three days. Here are your choices:

a. You could write and publish your book. 

The topic you’ve chosen could be one you’re passionate about and you don’t care how many copies it sells. If this is the case, go for it! Or it could  be that you have a popular website and feel confident that you can drive traffic to your book. Again, if this is the case, go for it! That said, one thing you might consider is that if the overwhelming number of sales are going to be driven from your website, why not sell the book from your website? That way you don’t have to pay Amazon a royalty!

b. You could go back to the drawing board.

You could go back to your essential concept and tweak it until you find a more lucrative category.

There’s no wrong choice, it's completely up to you and what your goals are.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I want to recommend, How To Podcast 2016: Four Simple Steps To Broadcast Your Message To The Entire Connected Planet ... Even If You Don't Know Where To Start, by Paul Colligan. I’ve wanted to start a podcast for a while now, but I've found the prospect daunting.

Although I appreciated Paul’s tips the thing I liked most about his book was its encouraging tone. If you’ve never created a podcast the prospect can be intimidating so I loved that Paul constantly stresses how simple it can be. From the blurb: “You don't need expensive equipment and an audio engineer to make a podcast that people will love and listen to. People want to know ... what you have to say and it is easier than ever before to let them.”

Looks like I won’t be able to finish this post today! I’ll wrap the series up on Monday when I’ll discuss how to choose a title, how to actually write the book. I’ll also talk about the pros and cons of using a pen name as well as how to create an eye-catching cover.

Stay tuned and good writing!

UPDATE: For your convenience, here are links to the other articles in this series:

Part 1 of 1: How to Write a Book in 15 Days
Part 2 of 3: How to Pick Categories for Your Amazon Book
Part 3 of 3: How to Choose a Title, Create the Artwork and Write the Darn Book!

Wednesday, January 11

Write a Book in 15 Days

Write a Book in 15 Days

When someone writes a book in a week it's usually a nonfiction book, though it's perfectly possible to write a novella in 15 days. After all, many people write 2,000 words a day for NaNoWriMo, writing 2,000 words a day for 15 days will get you 30,000 words. Depending how you look at it, that’s either a long novella or a short book!

Pick a topic.

Everyone knows a lot about something: computer repair, day trading, painting, marketing, cooking, baking, traveling, home repair, woodworking, scrapbooking, film, music, fitness, weight loss, relationships, sports, raising kids, and so on.

What interests you? If you’re on Pinterest what are most of your pins about?

Not sure what you’re good at? Ask yourself: What do your friends ask you for advice about?

Narrow the topic.

Okay, so, now you know what kind of book you want to write but the topic still needs to be narrowed down. For example, if you’ve decided to write about cooking, what kind of cooking? Vegetarian, Vegan, food for omnivores, eating local, eating raw, the Paleo Diet, gluten-free cooking, and so on.

Since you’re writing a very short book, even that doesn’t narrow things down enough. You’re only going to be writing a about 30,000 words or so, therefore you have to get specific.

For example, if your current passion is eating vegan, then you might want to write about how to create a delicious vegan meal in 15 minutes or less. Or perhaps even something like 40 delicious, gluten-free, avocado recipes. And so on.

 Or if baking is your thing, what kind of baking? Do you love desserts? Or, even more specifically, cupcakes? You could write a book about your 20 favorite chocolate cupcake recipes. Or perhaps your 20 favorite cupcake recipes inspired by halloween. Here are a few more ideas:

  • 15 minute meals for folks trying to lose 30 pounds in 30 days.
  • 20 delicious German gluten-free cookie recipes.
  • 20 French dessert recipes that melt in your mouth, cost under $5 and won’t blow your diet!
  • 20 Japanese meals for the North American palette ready in under 15 minutes.

The possibilities are infinite!

Create an outline.

After you’ve decided on the general topic and then narrowed it down it’s time to create your outline.

How is this done? For example, if you’re working on a book about rock climbing (a subject I know nothing about) there is going to be equipment unique to that sport.

Also, just about every sport has beginners, folks who want to try it out but don’t want to look silly by knowing nothing about the subject. These people have never, say, gone rock climbing before and would like suggestions about how to ease themselves into the sport. Should they start climbing indoors or outdoors? Does it matter? What kind of equipment should a beginner buy, if any? How can one find a qualified teacher? And so on.

If you want to write a 30,000 word book, then plan to have each chapter come out to about 3000 words which means you’ll have 10 chapters. Of course this could change a bit as you write, but it is very helpful to have as detailed an outline as possible before you begin writing.

The idea is for each point in your outline to become a chapter, or subsection of a chapter. For example:

- Introduction (to be written last)
* What pain points do your readers have? What do they want help with? Talk about how your book will help. Talk about what value your book has for your audience.
* Tell your readers what you’re going to tell them.

- What is rock climbing? 
* The history.
* How rock climbing has changed over the years.
* Why rock climbing is a fun sport that’s good for you both physically and mentally.

- Your first rock climb.
* How old do you have to be to rock climb? 
* Is rock climbing okay for seniors, or should they consult with a doctor first?
* What equipment is absolutely necessary for rock climbing? Can you rent it or must you buy?
* What kinds of rock faces are best for the beginner? Indoors or outdoors?

- How to become a better rock climber.
* Are there exercises one can do? Perhaps a special diet? 
* Must one practice frequently?

- Competitive rock climbing.
* Are there clubs devoted to rock climbing? Competitions? 
* How much per year can one expect to spend if one becomes serious about the sport.

- Extreme rock climbing.

And so on.

I hope what I’ve written, above, makes sense! I’ve never gone rock climbing and know nothing about it. But that's exactly why I picked it: I wanted to show completing an outline doesn’t require any specific knowledge. It's the other way around, you use the outline to see what research needs to be done.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

If you’re thinking of writing a cosy mystery a terrific place to begin is, Writing the Cozy Mystery, by Nancy J. Cohen. At the present moment (Jan 11, 2017) Nancy Cohen’s book, though only 50 pages long, is a steal at $0.75! From the blurb: “Do you want to write a mystery but don’t have a clue where to start? Or maybe you’ve begun a story but are stuck on the plot? Perhaps you’re already writing a series, and you need tips on how to keep track of your material? Writing the Cozy Mystery is a valuable guide on how to write a traditional whodunit. This concise tool will show you step-by-step how to develop your characters, establish the setting, plot the story, add suspense, plant clues and sustain your series.”

That’s it for today! I’ll finish this post up on Friday by talking about categories and keywords, how to craft an eye-catching cover and many other things. Till then, good writing!

UPDATE: I've finished this series. Below are links to all the articles:

Part 1 of 1: How to Write a Book in 15 Days
Part 2 of 3: How to Pick Categories for Your Amazon Book
Part 3 of 3: How to Choose a Title, Create the Artwork and Write the Darn Book!

Monday, January 9

Writing Resolutions for 2017

Writing Resolutions for 2017

I usually don’t make writing resolutions, but this year is different. There are several things I would like to improve and the New Year is as good a time as any to start.

1. Make more time for writing.

Mornings are not my best time. It often takes me an hour before I’m fed, sufficiently caffeinated and ready to write. I want to get that time down to, say, half an hour. And I think I can do it if I’m more organized, more focused.

Which begs the question: How does one become more organized? There are a lot of techniques one can use but one thing I’ve found helps is to record everything I do for a week. It’s difficult at first—I’ll forget to keep track—but after awhile I get better. At the end of the week I’ll have recorded enough of my activities to get a fair picture of how I spent my time.

Whenever I do this exercise what I discover always surprises me! In the past, one of my big time-wasters has been, believe it or not, research. I used to do a lot of detail work on my first draft then, when I end up cutting half the material, all that precious time I spent researching is wasted.

What I do now: On the first draft I use a placeholder for what I don’t know. If a sentence makes it into my second draft, then I do the required research.

My resolution: Have my butt in my writing chair half an hour after I get out of bed.

2. Embrace my voice.

First of all, what do I mean by "voice"?

In researching this article I came across a wonderful description of what we mean by “writer’s voice.” Rachelle Gardner writes:

“To me, your writer’s voice is the expression of YOU on the page. It’s that simple—and that complicated. Your voice is all about honesty. It’s the unfettered, non-derivative, unique conglomeration of your thoughts, feelings, passions, dreams, beliefs, fears and attitudes, coming through in every word you write.

“Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.” (What is Writer’s Voice?)

Developing One’s Voice

I’ve talked before about the advantages of writing a Zero Draft. One of these advantages is that since this is a vomit draft—a draft I will never, EVER, show anyone else—I’m free to explore (and perhaps develop!) my voice, my unique writing style.

After all, no one will see my zero draft and, if anyone does sneak into my office and take a  peek ... well, then they can hardly complain!

(NSFW -> Chuck Wendig wrote a terrific article about a writer’s voice: 25 Things Writers Should Know About Finding Their Voice)

My resolution: On my zero draft, take more chances. Be more expressive.

3. Try something new.

I’ve been writing non-fiction since 2010 in the form of blog posts. For most of that time did I think about publishing a nonfiction book? No! Why? I have no idea.

We don’t know whether a particular kind of book will be popular until we’ve tested the waters. That doesn’t mean writing and publishing the book, it means getting in touch with your readers and asking them what they want. What are their pain points? What can you help with? Granted, this method isn’t foolproof. Sometimes folks will say they want something but then your book doesn’t sell. That’s okay! It’s part of the learning process. I believe that old saying: If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.

Also, you often don’t know what you’re going to be good at before you jump in and do it. So try new things! Experiment.

My resolution: Try one of the things from the following list.

Things to Try:

- Try writing in a new genre. Or, if you’ve only written fiction up to now, try writing non-fiction (and vice versa).

- Make your creative work available in a different medium. For example, if your books are only available as a Kindle download, make them available through CreateSpace as well. If you don’t offer an audio version, record one of your books as an audiobook. If you’ve done all that but you don’t podcast, give podcasting a try!

- Make your creative work available in other locations. For example, if you haven’t used Kindle Unlimited, try it! Or if you’ve only sold books through Amazon, take one of your books and branch out. Offer it through Smashwords, Kobo, etc.

- Try new ways to market your books. Never tried BookBub? Do it! Never used free days (or discount days) on Amazon? Do it!

- Try different price points. If you’ve only offered your books for $1.00 each, try $2.99. Or, alternatively, if you generally sell your books for $2.99 each, try a higher price point. Or try to get new readers by offering your work for free, at least for a few days.

- Write about something that terrifies you, something that makes your heart beat faster and your palms sweat.

- Write every day. Set a schedule and write at the same time every day for a certain amount of time. To start off, this might only be five or ten minutes. After a few days of meeting this goal, increase your writing time by a minute. Do this until you’re writing, say, 1,000 words a day. At that rate it would only take about 2.5 months to write 80,000 words!

- Read eclectically. Read in a genre you normally don’t. Don’t read the newspaper? Read it! Don’t watch TV? Watch some! Don’t see movies? Go see one! But don’t read (or watch) passively. Be critical. Dissect the stories. Diagram them. Read critically.

- Experiment. If you prefer writing in the first person, try writing a piece of flash fiction using the third person perspective. Alternatively, if you prefer writing from a subjective viewpoint, if you like laying your character’s thoughts and emotions bare, try writing from an objective (fly on the wall) perspective.

Or try writing in a genre that is more ‘hard-boiled,’ one that traditionally favors an objective perspective, switch things up and try something like free indirect discourse. And vice versa. Urban fantasy or horror often employs a subjective viewpoint so that the reader will feel all the thrills and chills the viewpoint character does.

- Mingle. Reach out to other writers in your area. Go to a writers’ convention (if you do, I've found it helps to print out business cards with your name, email, website address and social media hangouts).

If none of these options appeal to you, create your own! I’d love to know what your New Year’s resolutions are.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

In the Shadow of Lakecrest, by Elizabeth Blackwell, reminded me favorably of Mary Stewart’s work. As a teenager I loved Stewart’s writing but then wandered away. This book was, for me, like re-discovering the kind of stories Stewart created. It was a lyrical, immersive, read. From the blurb:

“The year is 1928. Kate Moore is looking for a way out of the poverty and violence of her childhood. When a chance encounter on a transatlantic ocean liner brings her face-to-face with the handsome heir to a Chicago fortune, she thinks she may have found her escape—as long as she can keep her past concealed.

“After exchanging wedding vows, Kate quickly discovers that something isn’t quite right with her husband—or her new family. As Mrs. Matthew Lemont, she must contend with her husband’s disturbing past, his domineering mother, and his overly close sister. Isolated at Lakecrest, the sprawling, secluded Lemont estate, she searches desperately for clues to Matthew’s terrors, which she suspects stem from the mysterious disappearance of his aunt years before. As Kate stumbles deeper into a maze of family secrets, she begins to question everyone’s sanity—especially her own. But just how far will she go to break free of this family’s twisted past?”

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again on Wednesday. Until then, good writing!

Wednesday, January 4

7 Ways Positive Thinking Can Help You Be a Better Writer

7 Ways Positive Thinking Can Help You Be a Better Writer

I've been mulling over the benefits of positive thinking and came up with seven ways changing the way we think can help us not only be better writers but live happier lives:

1. Believe in your ability to succeed.

This is where optimists have the advantage. It sounds odd, but many folks who have succeeded, who have done great things in life, have had an unshakable confidence in their ability to succeed. They believed in themselves, in their ability.

You might be thinking, “Well, what if I don’t? Am I doomed?” Of course not! But if you truly believe you will succeed, I think it’s easier to brush it off when things go wrong.

2. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

One problem an inveterate optimist might run into is being so sure the best is going to happen that they neglect to prepare for failure. But there’s an easy remedy! Hope for and expect the best, but use your big brain to also prepare for the worst and to mitigate the effects on your writing if it happens.

3. Never give up! Pick a path and stay on it.

Let’s say you write a chick lit book set in the wild west and (surprise, surprise!) it doesn’t sell. Since you were probably hoping the book would sell this failure will come as a disappointment. But that doesn’t mean you should give up and stop writing. Instead, learn from your experience, from what worked and what didn’t.

For example, get someone you trust to give you their opinion why it didn’t sell. Also, ask them how you could improve your work. Perhaps you could invest in new cover art or use the services of a copywriter. Perhaps a complete rewrite is in order.

Whatever the case, the important thing is to keep writing. You’ve discovered something that doesn’t work, but I’ll bet you’ve also discovered a few things that do work. Apply that knowledge.

4. Think positive.

We each have the power to change how we view the events that happen to us. I’ve found folks tend to fall into one of two camps: people who view a glass as half full and those who view it as half empty (I am squarely in the ‘half-empty’ camp!).

Each of us has to decide how we want to frame the events that affect our lives. We can decide whether to interpret something as a total failure or as a learning experience that will help us do better next time.

5. Fake it till you make it.

You are what you do. If you’ve been, say, writing three novels a year for the past five years then you are definitely a writer. But what about when you start on that first novel? You probably wouldn’t feel like a writer, you might even feel like a fraud. You’d have all sorts of doubts, all sorts of anxiety. The solution: push through.

Hardly any successful writer felt like a writer when they started out. Sure they wrote every day, sure they honed their craft, but it’s a big step from that to being a professional writer, one who can (say) pay their rent with their work.

6. If you’re not making mistakes then you’re not doing anything.

I’ve written this on a sticky note I’ve taped to my monitor where I can see it. And it’s true. No one is successful in everything they do 100% of the time. It is SO EASY to let a mistake sidetrack you. Believe me, I know! When you make a mistake learn from it, then shake it off and keep going.

7. Prioritize your health, both mental and physical.

This isn’t about positive thinking, but I find it is intimately related to having a positive mental attitude.

Spending time writing is, of course, important but I’ve found that it’s vital to maintain my physical fitness through exercise. If I don’t get enough exercise I feel rundown. Also, it’s easier for me to get sick and if I’m sick then I can’t write.

The problem: exercising takes time that could be spent writing. And that’s painful! But it (for myself at least) is necessary; daily exercise has become a keystone habit, one that helps me lead a more fulfilled life and accomplish my other goals.

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I want to recommend David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. The book focusses on how to find your strength in what appears to be weakness. Inspirational! From the blurb: Gladwell examines stories of underdogs who succeeded brilliantly in an effort to “demonstrate how much of what is beautiful and important in the world arises from what looks like suffering and adversity.”

That’s it! I’ll talk to you again on Friday. In the meantime, good writing!

Tuesday, January 3

6 Inspirational and Informative Writing Podcasts

6 Inspirational and Informative Writing Podcasts

I love podcasts! Especially writing podcasts. I first started listening to them because I wanted to make the most of my time.

Because of podcasts, instead of just doing mindless housework I could (for example) dust and learn about how to be a better writer! And what used to be a mind-numbingly boring walk to the store turned into an educational foray into the finer points of publishing.

Basically, podcasts enable me to resurrect dead time. (Sounds deliciously gruesome, doesn't it!)

If you don’t listen to podcasts and suspect those who do are slightly—or perhaps more than slightly!—odd, I think the best way to explain them is by saying they're a bit like radio—if you could determine the content and then listen to the programs on the phone/computer/overlord device you carry with you everywhere.

If you're still on the fence, here's another incentive: podcasts are free! Download a few episodes and see if you like them. If you don't, fine! There's no commitment. If you do, subscribe to the podcast and your app will automatically download new ones as they become available.

To take advantage of this bounty, you will need to download some sort of podcast app. I use the one that came with my phone, helpfully named, "Podcasts." I'm sure there are better options out there! One app I've heard consistently good things about—in fact, because of the research I did for this article I've decided to try it out—is Overcast for iOS (that's NOT an affiliate link). If you're part of the android ecosystem, here's an article for you: 10 best podcast apps for Android.

Okay! You've downloaded your app of choice and are ready to get started. Or perhaps you've been listening to podcasts since they came out. Either way, here are ...

Six writing podcasts I listen to and have found enormously helpful:

1. Writing Excuses

From the website: “If you’re serious about letting Writing Excuses help you become a better writer, listen to one episode, and then stop listening, and start writing. Do the homework! Use the writing prompt.”

I love this podcast because of the back and forth discussion between the writers as well as the many interesting—and occasionally provocative!—points of view discussed. This podcast is educational in a multitude of ways, from going over the finer points of the craft of writing to getting a feel for the larger issues that affect the community.

2. Story Grid Podcast

From the website: “Join Shawn Coyne, author of Story Grid and a top editor for 25+ years, and Tim Grahl, struggling writer, as they discuss the ins and outs of what makes a story great.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to sit in on a discussion between a senior editor, one who has seen it all, as he shows a newbie the ropes. Excellent podcast.

3. The Creative Penn Podcast with Joanna Penn

From the website: "Podcast episodes will be posted every Monday and will cover interviews, inspiration and information on writing and creativity, publishing options, book marketing and creative entrepreneurship."
Joanna's podcast is inspirational and informative. Through her website and podcast, she has been a wonderful inspiration to me over the years.

4. Authority Self-Publishing

From the website: "Steve Scott is an Amazon bestselling author with over 60 self-published books on habits, productivity, and entrepreneurship. He’s built a consistent six-figure income as an author and now teaches other authors how to create a sustainable business around their books with his course called Authority Pub Academy."

5. The Writership Podcast

From the website: The Writership Podcast, a show focused on helping indie authors master self-editing skills. Come aboard and get ready to find the treasure in your manuscript with hosts Leslie Watts and Clark Chamberlain.

6. Kobo Writing Life Podcast

From the website: “Our main focus is on the craft & business of writing, providing valuable writing & publishing insights from some of the brightest minds in our industry.”

Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post.

Today I'm recommending Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King. From the blurb: "Hundreds of books have been written on the art of writing. Here at last is a book by two professional editors to teach writers the techniques of the editing trade that turn promising manuscripts into published novels and short stories."

By the way, if you listen to a writing podcast that has helped improve your writing please let me know in a comment.